Monday, August 31, 2009

Flattery: Red Flag?

Last Wednesday I forgot to bring my Magnificat to work with me, so I instead went to my backup daily prayer site, Universalis.

Morning prayer began with Psalm 35 (36 depending on your translation):

"O God, in your light we shall see true light.
Evil whispers to the sinner in the depths of his heart:
     the fear of God does not stand before his eyes.

Evil’s flattering light disguises his wickedness,
     so that he does not hate it."

Evil's flattering light disguises his wickedness.

As Christians, how often do we see ourselves against the backdrop of the world, thinking our souls are in far better shape than they really are?

*     *     *

Speaking of flattery...

Over the years, I've been acquainted with countless "friends" who use flattery as a means to gain something--a sense of belonging, career advancement, social acceptance, or a boost to the self-image (as compared with the world, of course). I still have a few of these kinds of people in my life, and boy do they lay it on thick. I feel sorry for them, because they truly don't understand giving of the self. Every favor has a condition. Every promise is forgotten. Every gift is nominal and often accompanied by saccharin. Their friendships don't last through the years, and wonder why they never seem to get anywhere in life.

Sign after sign is erected before them, and they deliberately shut their eyes, telling themselves that it's never them, never their inability to see themselves in the light of God. They prefer the flattering light of evil, because then they don't have to change.

Of course I would be guilty of lying if I said that I never did anything like this in my life. Sure, I've done things to ingratiate myself to others, especially when I looked at myself against that backdrop of the world, where nothing I do is nearly as bad as what others do.  I even have told my friends to not beat themselves up over things, because what they've done isn't nearly as bad as what others have done, and to not worry about it. 

The more I try to understand myself, though, and the true nature of sin as it works within me, I realize that this is a terrible attitude, and is just as bad as that overt flattery I described.  Lately I'm realizing that when my friends say to me, "compared to others...", I know they're trying to make me feel better, but it's not the response I need from them. Others aren't going to be judging me the day I die. God will, and He doesn't measure according to what others do. If I stop examining my conscience objectively against GOD's rule, I might easily turn into one of those poor souls blinded by evil's flattering light. 

What we all need during these times is not flattery, but prayer:

"Let us not be crushed under the heels of the proud,
     nor dispossessed by the hands of sinners.
The doers of evil have fallen where they stood,
     they are cast down and cannot rise. "

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Breaking the Cycle of Poverty

"Almost half of all high school boys have experimented with drugs before the age of thirteen. Many will leave school before the 9th grade, become fathers or become homeless. Some will resort to anything-- begging, crime, prostitution-- just to feed or clothe themselves, just to survive." (from The St. Francis House website)

Cities need more places like this. Is there one in yours? I wonder if there's one in ours.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Define Personal

I came across this very thought-provoking post at DarwinCatholic as I perused the internet this morning (yes, 2:00 am is very early in the morning--it's my attempt to find peace amid the bike-revving, door-slamming, bottle-crashing, drunk-screaming racket at the end of my street, thanks to the sooo very fabulous drinking establishment on the corner of my street. Pray for me.)

"Jesus Is Not My Pal talks about a misconception I think many Christians hold regarding what personal relationship with Christ really means, and Darwin is right: BFF ain't it. Part of the reason for this, I believe, is a grave misunderstanding about who and what Jesus is, and who and what we as believers are. I've actually heard someone say to me that when she dies, she believes that she's going right to heaven so she can run up and give Jesus a great big hug and hold his hand and have a nice long chit-chat with him.

Um, no.

Why people are so misguided in this regard is a topic for another sleepless night. It's sufficient to say here that John 1 states: "(v1)In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word WAS God...(v8) and the Word became flesh." Jesus is the Word made flesh consubstantial with The Father. He is our God, and we are His people. Psalm 95 call us to "come, worship the Lord, for we are His people, the flock that He shepherds". Jesus even calls Himself "The Good Shepherd".

As Darwin's title says so perfectly, Jesus isn't our "pal", and I really doubt He wants to be our "pal". The Last Supper comes to mind. Christ washes each of His disciples' feet--a very personal, very humble act done by only the most lowly of servants--and then tells them:
If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him. Jn 13:14-16
He gets down on His knees to teach us how to serve, and then expects us to get on our knees and serve one another, too. He's a humble, gentle Master who serves and deeply loves his people, but He's the Master nonetheless, and doing as he commands out of love for Him and love for one another is the evidence of our personal relationship with Jesus.

Aren't we commanded in the Gospel to love the Lord our God with our whole hearts, souls, minds and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves? No relationship is more personal than one that truly gives the entire self to God and to one another. This kind of relationship is far more intimate than just being pals.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Bishop Shares His Thoughts With America

The Church isn't subject to human opinion. Many Catholics, even those with often deep and heartfelt faith, forget this.

From America Magazine - The Church and the University:

"What is the relationship of the Catholic university to the local bishop? No relationship? Someone who occasionally offers Mass on campus? Someone who sits on the platform at graduation? Or is the bishop the teacher in the diocese, responsible for souls, including the souls of students—in this case, the students at Notre Dame? Does the responsibility of the bishop to teach, to govern and to sanctify end at the gate of the university?"

Something I read not too long ago--in an introduction by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger to a book about the Charismatic Renewal (can't remember the title, as I've only so far read the introduction)--went something like this: If you are living in union with the Holy Spirit, then you are also living in union with the Church, who is also living in union with the Holy Spirit. We must, therefore, continually turn to the Church in order to determine whether or not we are, in fact, following the Holy Spirit or something else.

I urge you to read this entire article, and really take in what Bishop D'Arcy is saying here.

Ever Been Too Peeved to Pray?

From The Three Ages of the Interior Life Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, OP Catholic Spiritual Teaching: "The interior life is precisely an elevation and a transformation of the intimate conversation that everyone has with himself as soon as it tends to become a conversation with God."

It really hit me last night just how much I struggle with this conversation. The ear-splitting wail of a motorcycle racing up and down my street at midnight completely interrupted my sleep. A couple fighting, accompanied by some guy yelling close the door, man, just close the door fifty times had me looking out the window. My favorite 2am noise now? Beer bottles smashing against dumpster walls echoing through the night.

About two months ago, a new bar--no, motorcycle hangout--opened at the end of our street. We and our neighbors have witnessed couples fighting in our front yards, motorcycles racing up and down our street after midnight, litter being thrown onto our property, and all those wonderful little perks you get to enjoy when you live close to a bar. I gripped my rosary, begging Our Lady to help me to focus, but I just couldn't at first. My peace had been completely disturbed, and now, tired and angry, all I could focus on was myself and how I felt. Eventually I got through the first few prayers of my rosary, and when I began to focus on the words of the Our Father, I finally drifted off to sleep.

Of course we're taking action. I called our councilwoman this morning, and we're documenting all incidents we witness. It might, however, take months for this problem to be solved. In the meantime, I have to find a way to live with it. Hence, my struggle in my conversation with God.

Garrigou-Lagrange writes:

"This progressive manifestation of God to the soul that seeks Him is not unaccompanied by a struggle; the soul must free itself from the bonds which are the results of sin, and gradually there disappears what St. Paul calls 'the old man' and there takes shape 'the new man.'"

Hm. Anger is a sin, isn't it? Last night I allowed my anger to distract me to the point that I couldn't pray. I also woke up late, which made me late for work, which rekindled my feelings of anger once again. It occurs to me as I write this post that I neglected prayer this morning.

I wonder...what other things, apart from last night's chaos, distract me from prayer?

Do you find yourself in this predicament as well?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Dominion Over the Back Yard

We didn't plant melon this year, but we bought some from a local fruit stand that was quite delicious. So delicious that we didn't throw the guts away like usual. My first batch of honey rock melon seeds is fermenting away in a big mason jar on my countertop. Fermenting removes chaff from fleshy fruit seeds like melon, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc., before they can be dried and stored for next year's garden.

Gardening is far more than sticking a plant in the ground and watching it grow. With a little effort in the right places, we won't have to spend another dime at a nursery. It's still a little too early to harvest seed pods from our annuals, and since we planted a little late our harvest is coming in late, so all we have are melon seeds. Still we spent the weekend in the yard weeding gardens & flowerbeds, spreading compost, re-staking tomatoes, moving a couple perennials from one bed to another, and tending our "new" mulberry bush.

The mulberry bush started out as a tree. Well, not exactly--this tree was just taking over our and our neighbor's back yards. Mulberries can grow up to 75 feet high, and this one was going for it. So earlier this year my husband and our neighbor cut the huge mulberry tree down to a stump. The mulberry isn't giving up. This stump shot out dozens of new branches, and suddenly we had a mulberry bush. Today we pulled it in with twine and pruned it into a nice hedge. It should retain the shape after about a year of being trained, but it will need careful tending so that it doesn't take over the backyards again.

God created man in his image...[He] blessed them, saying: "...have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth."

The more time I spend in my garden, the more I realize that less meddling with the plants is best. Dominion, after all, can be approached in two very distinct ways. I read something in one of my new gardening books titled Food Not Lawns that says it best: "...when you're asking the question Should I prune my grapes? try to see yourself as the willing servant to the garden, not the master."

The willing servant. Not the master.

My pink tea roses are a good example. Two years ago they were doing terribly. It's no surprise, though. "The master" was just torturing the poor things. I moved them three times and pruned off the new growth. They had three blooms. No kidding, three. Last year I had to prune them again just to get them into a normal shape. I also moved them, but only once, into a sunnier spot. They had more than three blooms, but it was still pretty sparse.

This year I tossed the master aside and instead approached my tea roses as the willing servant. I pruned off only three dead branches. I gave them a heaping shovel of compost. That was it, other than watering them. My tea roses doubled in size, producing dozens of beautiful pink blooms. Serving my roses gave me more results than trying to master them.

Back to the mulberry...just last night we were talking with our neighbor about what to do with that bush. Ultimately we were making a we act like the master and rip the sucker out, or be the willing servant and train it into a hedge? As you've already read, servant won out. The funniest part of this story is that we weren't even right about the kind of plant we had. We thought it was an elderberry bush gone completely insane. It was only just an hour before I started writing this post, when researching complimentary plants for the elderberry, did I discover our little mulberry bush's real identity. (nope, never saw an elderberry bush before, either.)

I also discovered that mulberries have no shelf life, so really the only way to ever enjoy fresh mulberries are picked right from the tree. What a shame if we'd have dug it up! Mulberries also make delicious juice, syrups, jams & preserves that you can't find in stores without paying out the nose. Every part of this plant is usable either as food or medicine, and mulberries produce a huge yield of berries, even from a relatively small bush.

Next spring I'll take a couple of clippings and start some new mulberry bushes. Maybe I'll plant a couple of rose bushes around them too, and in a few short years we'll have us a little mulberry hedge grove.

I think I'm going to like having dominion over my back yard as the willing servant.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Blasted Back To Reality

After a deeply spiritual Cursillo weekend and a wonderful vacation in Portland, Oregon with my husband, his grown sons and their families, I thought I was settling back into the daily grind pretty well.

Then this morning I read an article that has literally reduced me to tears. Here is an excerpt of the CNS article by Doreen Abi Raad:

Two Catholic bishops in Baghdad, Iraq, expressed shock and concern for their people following a series of targeted blasts that killed 95 people and wounded more than 500.

"With these acts of violence, we are losing everything," Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni told Catholic News Service by phone Aug. 20, the day after the attacks.

"When there's no peace, we can't study, we can't pray, we can't work; we can't even walk," he said.

(CLICK HERE to read the rest of this story.)

What can I do, a virtual nobody from Northeastern Ohio, with no pull, no real voice, no influence? Is it enough to simply be thankful for what I do have and just continue on as I always have?

Last night at our weekly Cursillo Mass before Ultreya, Fr. Ed gave a powerful homily about why we shouldn't just be satisfied to do what's required or expected. He held up in example St. Bernard, a doctor of the Church who defended faith as "not as an opinion but as a certitude", whose feast day we celebrated yesterday.

As I continue to reflect upon the tragic bombing in Iraq that took 95 lives and injured 500 more, Fr. Ed's words continue to echo in my mind: When we face the Lord in judgement, as the scripture tells us we will over and over, the Lord will ask us what have we done, and just doing what's required isn't going to be enough. It's about going the extra mile, doing things out of love.

Is it enough to simply be thankful for what I do have and just continue on?

The knot in my stomach tells me no, it's not enough.

How do I--how do WE go the extra mile?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Weekend Getaway with the Lord

We prayed. We sang. We laughed. We cried. We worshiped.

We escaped the world and all its trappings to encounter our Lord like never before.

I watched a group of tired, weary, reluctant women transform into little girls again under the watchful eye of a Loving Father. They learned just how powerful a Christian Community inspired by our Lord Jesus to do incredible acts of selfless love can be. They died to themselves and opened their hearts to the Holy Spirit, rediscovering the Lord dwelling within them.

Our Lord has most definitely blessed Youngstown Cursillo Women’s Weekend #59. Thank you all for your prayers!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Details. Always the details.

I've been up to my eyeballs with details. I'm not complaining, mind you, because whenever one embarks upon some major undertaking, there are bound to be countless details which need attention. The greater the undertaking, the more details requiring attention.

The undertaking of which I speak is a Women's Cursillo weekend beginning on Thursday evening. "Cursillo de Cristiandad" means essentially a "short course" in Christian living. The participants are imbued with a better understanding of their role as the Laity, and, along with the realization that a dramatic change must be made in this world, the tools to change their little corner of it for the better. This change is what results through the dilligent practice of a method of piety, study and action, which we teach in-depth during the three days.

For the last three months, a group of us have gathered to prepare talks, plan liturgies, learn music, brainstorm lists of essentials, shop for essentials, coordinate schedules, and pray, pray, pray, pray, PRAY!

(I bet you can't guess what the most important element is when preparing a three-day retreat weekend.)

As I finish preparing the details for my big weekend, I ask all of you out there reading this to pray for us as we try to change our little corner of the world for the better.


Relatively: a followup post I found

Fr. Z posted a CNA article yesterday that gave me some hope:

SANCTE PATER: Catholic congressman: I'd rather save my soul than vote for the health care bill

The standout paragraph in the article for me was this:

“I know that voting against the health care bill will probably be the death of my political career,” Cao said, “but I have to live with myself, and I always reflect on the phrase of the New Testament, ‘How does it profit a man's life to gain the world but to lose his soul.’”

Read my commentary on Relativism and life issues here.

Monday, August 3, 2009


There is no question where the Church stands on the sanctity of human life. Mother Church continues to stand firm that life begins at conception, and that every human being has a right to that life until his or her natural death.

I, for one, am never surprised when our elected officials misquote, misrepresent or malign Church teaching regarding life issues. I wasn't surprised when presidential candidate John McCain on one hand stated that he was pro-life, yet bragged about approving two of the most pro-choice justices we have on the bench during his tenure as US Senator. I wasn't surprised when Nancy Pelosi misquoted St. Augustine and misrepresented Church teaching on human conception last year. I wasn't surprised when Notre Dame President Fr. John Jenkins ignored an explicit request by his Bishops and awarded President Obama with an honorary degree. I am not surprised by my US Representative Tim Ryan's statement which outright insults anyone who accepts Catholic teaching on contraception.

I am not surprised because I never underestimate the desire for power among the human race. The issues surrounding birth control and abortion are the kinds of issues that our elected officials use to achieve that power. Let's face it, our society needs birth control and abortion because we think we need it, and as long as we are focused on these issues themselves, we will remain blind to a much more important fact: contraception and abortion are symptoms of a much, much greater problem. That greater problem is RELATIVISM.

Pope Benedict XVI said in a homily delivered just before he was elected Pope: "We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one's own ego and one's own desires." Relativism opposes Church teaching at the most elementary level, declaring that there is no absolute truth, and that we all have the ability to determine what is right and wrong for us. Our wants determine our needs.

Kind of like the serpant told Eve, huh?

As Christians, we know full well that there is such a thing as absolute truth, and it comes from the Lord Himself. We are created in Gods image, and as such, we aren't a mass of flesh governed by our desires. We have dominion over all creation, including over ourselves. We have the ability to control our desires, and we have the capacity to love one another enough to not want merely to use each other to fulfill a bodily function. At the heart of the abortion and contraception controversy is the expendability of others (even the unborn) in the quest to achieve fulfillment of our wants, which even give us the right to deny human existence.

In the face of this absolute truth, there is no possible argument that can stand for something like contraception. Arguing a "need" for birth control becomes moot when the relativistic mentality regarding human sexuality is squashed by conversion.

I think, however, the widespread acceptance of relativism goes much further beyond just the issues. I stated previously that abortion and birth control are issues used by politicians to achieve an end. Consider this: who will step in and govern humanity when human beings, more and more wrapped up in a relativist lifestyle which fully services their own individual desires eventually at the expense of others, have lost the capacity to truly govern themselves?
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